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Why The Voting Rights Act Should Be Scrapped

When the Voting Rights Act was signed into law in 1965, it was considered a cornerstone bill for civil rights. After all, what wasn’t to like? Minorities could now be equally represented in their governments, could vote without having to pay a ridiculous poll tax or take a literacy test, and helped end institutional racism. Plus, Martin Luther King Jr. himself was present at the bill signing, so it must’ve been good right?

At least that was what I originally thought, until I saw how the Justice Department has interpreted the VRA in a recent case declaring the election procedures of Kingston, North Carolina unconstitutional. The error – ballots were going to be non-partisan.

Since it was a community covered under Section 5 of the VRA – which mandates that areas with a history of voter discrimination must pre-clear any changes in election laws with the Justice Department – the measure was brought before the Justice Department by the ACLU as a discriminatory measure against blacks and minorities. The judge ruled that having local elections that were non-partisan is unconstitutional because it “will likely reduce the ability of blacks to elect candidates of choice”, and was therefore struck down.

Just wrap your head around that for a second. According to the courts, it is critical for minorities to know what party their candidate belongs to or else they can’t vote, or would vote for the wrong person. Essentially, it’s to make sure that minorities vote for the party that they are told to vote for, not the person they want. Now I understand the importance of party affiliation to some voters, but is it really so hard for anybody to do a little research on their potential elected officials so they can vote with their brains? Is it now discriminatory to take partisanship out of politics, especially on the local levels, and vote for the best person? Apparently according to this interpretation of the VRA, it is.

This is one of the reasons why I believe the VRA is past its usefulness. The original reason for the legislation is to ensure that a majority of adults in the Section 5 areas were registered to vote, which was not the case throughout the Deep South. Now, with many of the areas above the 50% threshold, it should no longer be required, but it is kept around so civil rights groups can sue governments they don’t like for the dumbest reasons, like having no parties listed on a ballot. It is nothing short of an opinion that minorities practically need to be told who to vote for, and anything that keeps them from blindly supporting the party machine needs to be prevented, even if that party’s candidate is the worst candidate to get up on a stage. It harkens back to the old Tammany Hall machine of the 1800’s, when politicians would exchange favors for immigrants’ votes, which serves as the crowning example of cronyism in American politics.

This decision hopes to revive those days, and prevent people from voting with their brains and hearts rather than just voting for the Democrat or Republican because you were told to. It does nobody any favors, and perpetuates political ignorance that allows corrupt politicians and interest groups to fleece the American public out of their hard earned incomes and grow the size of Washington at the expense of states’ rights and state sovereignty.

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Taking Aim at Ames

The Ames Straw Poll was on Saturday, the unofficial first start to a presidential campaign if you’re a Republican. Depending on what your personal view is of straw polls, it has varying degrees of influence on campaigns, as well as what kind of candidate Iowans want to see. This year, over 16,000 participated in the straw poll, with Michelle Bachmann (R-Minnesota) winning in a close contest over Ron Paul (R-Texas). The two candidates combined for more than 50% of the vote, leaving the other seven participants in the dust.

But how much does the straw poll really matter? After all, its a voluntary survey of anybody who is willing to pay $30 can vote in, and big-hitters like Texas governor Rick Perry and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney decided to not take part in (Mr. Romney was included by vote of the Iowa Republican Party and Mr. Perry made it as a write-in). Yet, the dismal showing by former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, who had been struggling to stay relevant, led him to bow out of the race the next day, so clearly this poll has enough weight to force candidates out early, and Mr. Perry’s roughly 718 write-in votes was very good considering he declared his candidacy that day.

If you’re a Ron Paul supporter, there are two ways you can look at his second-place finish. The “glass half-full” view is that it’s a big accomplishment to finish within 160 votes of Michelle Bachmann, who is the home-town favorite having been born in Iowa and is widely expected to carry the state in the primary. That kind of performance would make any campaign team happy, and should cement Dr. Paul’s place among the top-tier of candidates. The downside to the second-place finish is that it was in a straw poll, which is Dr. Paul’s best event, and his first second-place finish since last year’s SRLC conference in New Orleans. Also, since the poll wasn’t just for registered Republicans, his vote strength may’ve come from independents who may not participate in the caucus in February, which raises doubts on whether or not he is as politically strong as his second-place finish would have you believe.

Straw polls are all about organizing your faithful followers to make a strong showing, and Dr. Paul supporters are some of the most determined in the field. Ms. Bachmann’s, though, are just as determined, as is evident by the close finish on Saturday, and could potentially close caucus if the straw poll is an accurate indicator of how the caucuses will go. Dr. Paul proved he can place well in straw polls, but whether or not he can parlay that into electoral victory in February is uncertain.

Make no mistake about it, the campaigns are now going to get fierce, but the straw poll has shown who the main contenders are. It may not be an accurate indicator of who the winner will be, but it does reveal who has the grassroots strength to run a long campaign, and who has a devoted enough base to win in February, and maybe even in November.

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Who Won The Great Debt Debate?

As of noon today, the long battle over the debt ceiling is at an end (at least for now). The bill passed the House of Representatives by a 269-161 margin yesterday, and cleared the Senate by a 74-26 vote earlier today. From what you’ve probably heard from the avalanche of news about this deal, it won’t include tax increases, will raise the debt ceiling by roughly $2.4 trillion (ensuring we won’t deal with it until after the 2012 elections), and will cut that amount in taxes. At face value, you’d think this is a good deal?

Ah, but that is where they get you with the details. The cuts will be spread out over ten years, which theoretically would mean that we’d be shaving $240 billion off the deficit each year, all things being equal. However, not even that will occur, because when Washington “cuts” spending, they really mean that they’re going to slow the rate of growth in spending projected by the CBO, and calling the difference between the baseline and the spending pattern a “cut”. So in other words, rather than cut spending, spending will increase, just more slowly.

As expected, each party’s leaders are putting their own spin on the deal. House Speaker Boehner (R-Ohio) is trying to tell his caucus that the bill is a victory for Republicans because it doesn’t include tax increases, while House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-California) tells her caucus that it could’ve been worse, but it gets the job done.

In reality, nobody really won, because there isn’t anything in the compromise that is a cause for celebration. The debt ceiling is still being raised, so we’ve found more road to kick the can down, which means more room for spending. Also, a “Super Congress” was formed, which, as I mentioned in a post from last week, represents nothing more than legislators handing over their power to tax-and-spend to a small group of their peers, which could yield no actual solutions to the problem of debt and deficit. Yes, they’re being forced to act because of a spending-cut heavy “trigger” that would axe huge portions of entitlement and defense spending, which seems like the best way to actually cut spending right now rather than whatever smoke-and-mirrors tactics this deal is promoting.

Originally posted at www.silverunderground.com

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The Amazing Surrendering Congress

We’re now five days away from hitting the deadline to get a deal done to raise the debt ceiling, and things aren’t looking up for anybody interested in a “grand bargain”, or anything other than maintaining the status quo. What’s even more depressing is that from a couple of negotiations, there seems to be an almost bi-partisan push to surrender lawmaking authority to either the executive branch or a small group of lawmakers beholden to practically nobody.

In one case, some lawmakers are considering giving the president authority to raise the debt ceiling by himself, using a vague interpretation of the 14th amendment that states that the ability of incur debt “shall not be questioned”. The other method, which is being supported by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), would allow a “Super Congress” to be formed, a 12-member body from the House and Senate that would have the exclusive power to draft legislation regarding the deficit, and the legislation couldn’t be amended by either the House or Senate. It doesn’t take much research to know that both of these proposals are disasters waiting to happen.

Starting with the “14th amendment solution”, which I mentioned in a previous “Constitution Watch” article, is a gross misinterpretation of one section of the Constitution, which disregards the part where it gives Congress the power to tax and spend. While I’m not surprised some of the President’s advisors want him to involve the 14th amendment, I am surprised that some in Congress want to handover decision making on the debt to the President so readily. As for the “Super Congress”, which is the proposed bicameral, bipartisan panel, it is just as bad. The deficit, which is getting closer to $2 trillion with no real end in sight, is one of the most important issues facing the legislature. Letting such a major issue be decided by 12 out of 535 members of Congress is unwise, especially if it’s filled with legislators committed to tax increases rather than making any meaningful cuts. Unsurprisingly, this proposal is being attacked by both the left and right as an unconstitutional power-grab that shuts out 96% of legislators to the decision making process, and reduces their role to a simple “yea or nay” vote on whatever the panel comes up with.

More at www.silverunderground.com

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How A Government Shutdown Could be a Good Thing

Minnesota: Land of 10,000 Lakes, 20,000 Furloughed Employees, and $5 billion in deficits

Back in April, the debate was whether or not the Federal government would shut down amidst the bitter budget dispute that continues to be a problem to this day. Eventually, the government passed an 11th hour deal that kept the government operating until a long-term budget was agreed upon. Leading up to that shutdown, many of us speculated what a government “shutdown” would mean; what services would be stopped, and what would continue operating. We didn’t have to go through the shutdown, even though it would be interesting to see how the nation would operate with Washington only offering the bare essentials. For citizens of Minnesota however, they get to experience a government shutdown first hand.

Beginning last week, the Minnesota State Legislature shut down after a budget showdown between Democrat governor Mark Dayton and the Republican-controlled state legislature failed to result in a budget agreement. Immediately afterwards, all non-essential state services closed down, and nearly 20,000 state employees were furloughed and told to collect unemployment benefits. The focal point centers around an estimated $1.8 billion tax hike on Minnesota’s millionaires, which was proposed by Democrats but rejected by Republicans, who want a smaller budget that focuses more on spending cuts to close a $5 billion budget gap.

Both sides have taken heat for allowing the government to close down by constituents who depend on government services to get by, but this shutdown may not be as bad as some make it out to be. First off, all federal agencies remain open, since they do not operate on state money, so you can still get your mail, collect entitlements, and write your congressman. As for state functions, one can still collect benefits the state owes them, police and firefighters will still be paid because they are essential workers, and the Minnesota Zoo will still be open because it can run on money collected through admission, concessions, and parking fees, despite it being state-run. What this means is that the government isn’t really “shutting down”, it’s just closing all the non-essential services and putting non-essential workers on furlough.

From what I can see, a government “shutdown” sounds like a libertarian dream come true. The government is only offering essential services that private entrepreneurs or charities can not be expected to provide, like law enforcement, leaving people to take care of themselves. It also serves as a display of how many government functions are considered “non-essential” by the very government that is collecting taxes to operate them. If they aren’t essential, why is the government operating them instead of private entities? If the government stays closed long enough, it might actually result in people finding alternative ways to acquire the services they need that were previously thought to only be available in the public sphere. Eventually, private charities and entrepreneurs would offer the in-demand services, and compete with each other for customers, which would lead to an improved quality of product at an affordable price.

Maybe the fear we should have in such situations is not that a government “shutdown” will create chaos, but rather that when it “reopens”, it tries to become even larger.

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Five Days of Liberty: A Recap of PorcFest 2011

The freest festival in America

Ever wondered what it would be like if you lived in a world where there were no police, no laws, and no mandates from legislators? For the last five days I was in such an environment in Lancaster, New Hampshire. This event, called PorcFest, is a weeklong celebration of freedom, liberty, and a rebellion against crooked governments and statist legislation. This event is hosted each year by the Free State Project, a non-profit organization that seeks to create a libertarian community within New Hampshire, considered by many, including the prestigious Mercatus Center at George Mason University, to be the freest state in the country both economically and socially. The goal is to get 20,000 liberty activists to agree to move to New Hampshire to make it even freer than it already is. PorcFest is a yearly event that brings together people from around the world to join together under the cause of “liberty in our lifetime”, and also to be able to do the kinds of things that are illegal in their hometowns.

Read on at www.silverunderground.com

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A Nation Drowning in Debt

Our national debt crisis is serious, we all know that. Where many disagree is how serious the crisis really is. People like Robert Reich insist that it’s “ridiculous” to concern ourselves with the debt right now, when we can deal with it five years from now, and various Keynesian economists believe that spending will fix our current economic conditions, and tackle the deficit and debt when we’re on more stable financial footing.

Unfortunately for this side of the argument, the time to tackle debts and deficits is now, and the days are numbered. A recent Moody’s report, one of the most influential debt rating agencies in the country, stated that a downgrade on America’s debt rating “is likely” by mid-July if there isn’t a “credible agreement on deficit reduction”. This is the second such warning in two months, coming on the heals of the S&P’s threats of a downgrade amidst the debt ceiling discussions currently taking place in Washington.

Yet while the seriousness of this situation can’t be understated any longer, Congress doesn’t seem to be too concerned. President Obama set a deadline for a debt ceiling deal to be ready by the end of June, with Vice President Biden leading the talks. However, the Senate is in recess this week, the House will be in recess next week, and Biden is in Italy, making it unlikely a proposal will be ready at that time. You’d think given the severity of the situation, Congress would hold off on their vacations until a proposal could be agreed upon. It’s their job, right? But alas, it is becoming clear that if there is one thing Congressmen value more than anything, it’s frequent vacations, even in times of national importance such as this.

America’s perfect credit rating hangs by a thread, our deficit has grown to unacceptable levels, and important budget reforms have been subjected to fear-mongering and childish insults. Maybe instead of taking a week off, our representatives should commit to staying in Washington to fix this fiscal nightmare. Otherwise, break out the gyro stands and pop the Ouzo, it’s going to look an awful lot like Greece.

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